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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 07:48 GMT 08:48 UK
'Neverkusen' ghost haunts final
Bayer Leverkusen's Michael Ballack, Oliver Neuville and Bernd Schneider contemplate Sunday's World Cup Final against Brazil
A big dipper of a season for Leverkusen's players

The playwright Samuel Beckett once wrote, "Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

It is a saying that will be very pertinent to those Bayer Leverkusen players who will feature in Sunday's World Cup final in Yokohama.

For Germany there is Carsten Ramelow, Oliver Neuville and Bernd Schneider. For Brazil there is Lucio.

Past German luckless losers
Bayern Munich's Wolfgang Dremmler, Paul Breitner, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge lost the European Cup Final and the World Cup final in 1982. The club came third in the league
Cologne's Harald 'Toni' Schumacher lost the 1982 and 1986 World Cup final. He also lost the 1986 Uefa Cup final
Germans Manfred Kaltz, Felix Magath and Horst Hrubesch of Hamburger SV lost the 1982 World Cup final and the 1982 Uefa Cup final, though the club did win the Bundesliga that year

A sense of foreboding and regret will also pervade the German bench.

There will sit substitute goalkeeper Hans-Joerg Butt and the suspended Michael Ballack, the man whose goal against South Korea took Germany to the final, before he picked up the booking that ruled him out of Sunday's game.

But the Leverkusen World Cup connection goes deeper.

Until quite recently the German coach Rudi Voeller was Leverkusen's sporting director as well as coach of the national team.

And in the stands in Yokohama will be Leverkusen's managing director Reiner Calmund, who has been staying with the German party in Japan during the World Cup.

Brazil's defender Lucio
At last Lucio finds something to celebrate

For all those Leverkusen folk, Sunday will mark the end to a mammoth season which began on 3 August - 11 months ago - when the club beat Hansa Rostock 3-0 in heavy rain as the Bundesliga campaign kicked off.

Five days later Leverkusen travelled to Yugoslavia to play Red Star Belgrade in a third round qualifying tie as they began their remarkable European adventure which took them all the way to the Champions League final.

Leverkusen ultimately failed to win Europe's most prestigious competition, thwarted by Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane's sublimely executed volley.

As they had failed four days earlier to win the German Cup final after being beaten 4-2 by Schalke.

A week before that, Leverkusen had let slip their first chance of silverware after they were pipped to the Bundesliga title by Borussia Dortmund on the last day of the season.

That was the most painful loss. Klaus Toppmoeller's side had blown a five-point lead over Dortmund, losing two of their last three games.

It was the fourth time in six years that Leverkusen had finished runners-up, a track record of second best that prompted one disgruntled fan to dub Toppmoeller's boys "Neverkusen" on the club's website.

Heartbreaking campaign

If Germany do lose on Sunday, Calmund will feel the pain just as keenly as the Leverkusen players.

Over the last decade on a tight budget this bear of a man has been one of the driving forces behind Leverkusen's entry into the European football elite.

Calmund feels the pain of defeat more than your average managing director.

He has already suffered three heart attacks and as Leverkusen's Bundesliga campaign disintegrated admitted that he had taken sedatives before one particular league game to calm his nerves.

Even before Leverkusen had completed that hat-trick of failures, Topmoeller had expressed worry about his boss.

"I'm afraid that Calli will break down if we end the season without any silverware.

"He has been through too many problems lately and has put so much work and love into this club that he might arrive at the threshold when he can't carry on any more."

Bayer Leverkusen's managing director Reiner Calmund
Victory would improve Reiner Calmund's health

"Neverkusen" is a label that has stuck like mud.

Just how much failure can their players, former sporting director and managing director take in one season?

With Brazil already installed as strong favourites to win the World Cup for a fifth time, for Lucio the sense of foreboding will be not so great.

The odds are that he, at least, will finish the season a winner.

But for Ramelow, Neuville and Schneider and just as much for Butt and Ballack, who will watch from the sidelines kicking every ball in their mind, a World Cup defeat will probably mark them out as football's unluckiest quintent.

At least the Leverkusen connection will have one remedy on hand to lessen the pain.

The club is bankrolled by the pharmaceutical giant Bayer 04 - the company that patented the aspirin.


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